- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The union leadership representing flight attendants at US Airways Group Inc. and other airlines unanimously approved a resolution yesterday authorizing a strike.

The resolution is the latest step for the flight attendants’ union as it struggles to hold onto jobs and wages within the troubled airline industry.

A strike would not likely occur during the coming holiday season because the union leadership must submit the strike authorization to its rank and file for a vote, which could take weeks. US Airways contends that federal law will prevent an immediate action by workers.

The board of the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents 46,000 workers at 26 airlines, threatened during its meeting in Pittsburgh to strike against all airlines if any of their labor agreements are annulled by a bankruptcy judge.

“Airline management needs to understand that there will be serious consequences if they persist in their attacks on our contracts,” AFA President Pat Friend said before the board vote.

The strike threat was triggered by US Airways and UAL Corp., the parent of United Airlines.

Arlington-based US Airways asked Bankruptcy Judge Stephen S. Mitchell last week to annul contracts of three unions, including the group representing flight attendants. US Airways is seeking $150 million in concessions from its flight attendants, the union says.

Judge Mitchell already has imposed temporary pay cuts of 21 percent on the flight attendants and members of two other unions.

US Airways also asked the judge to terminate the pensions of 53,000 current and former workers and cut the health benefits of 10,800 retirees.

All told, the measures would save the company more than $1 billion annually.

UAL said in bankruptcy court last month it will seek cuts from labor groups, and the company hopes to have those cuts in place by January. United Airlines, the operating unit of parent UAL Corp., is seeking $137.6 million in concessions from its flight attendants.

United has not asked a bankruptcy court to scrap labor contracts, but the company has said it will if negotiations with labor groups fail.

The union of flight attendants will poll workers at four financially troubled airlines, including US Airways, about whether to strike. Flight attendants at United, ATA Holdings Corp. and Hawaiian Holdings Inc. also will be asked whether to strike, and the union will tally the vote by the end of December.

Association of Flight Attendants spokesman David Kameras said the union will trigger a strike only if a bankruptcy judge grants an airline’s request to void a flight attendants’ contract.

“This is not directed at US Air,” he said. But “US Air is the only one that has asked a bankruptcy judge to abrogate a contract.”

US Airways continues to negotiate with its the union representing flight attendants, and they have about two weeks to reach an agreement. Judge Mitchell scheduled a hearing for Dec. 2 on the airline’s request to void contracts of the flight attendants, Communications Workers of America, which represents customer service agents, and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents mechanics and baggage handlers.

“The parties are talking, but whatever happens on this front is up to management,” Mr. Kameras said.

US Airways contends a strike would be a violation of the Railway Labor Act, which prevents an immediate strike and requires the two sides to engage in arbitration.

“We understand the union’s frustration with what has happened to the legacy airlines and the impact it has had on flight-attendant careers. A strike, however, by law is not permitted under these circumstances. It would ground this airline and send approximately 5,400 flight attendants to the unemployment lines. That option would not be in anyone’s best interest,” US Airways spokesman David Castelveter said.

US Airways is struggling to transform itself into a low-cost carrier so it can compete with companies like Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways Corp.

US Airways said in a bankruptcy court filing last week that it will lose $700 million this year.

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